HL Deb 02 July 1835 vol 29 cc172-82
Viscount Duncannon

rose to call the attention of the House to the subject of a letter, an extract from which had been handed to him a few evenings since by the right reverend Prelate near him (the Bishop of Exeter) which he had then stated, he could not reply to. When the extract, however, which reflected on the conduct of Mr. M'Dermott, one of the Commissioners of Public Instruction in Ireland, was placed in his hands, he took the best means in his power to ascertain the facts, and he wrote to Ireland for that purpose. He had received an answer from the Gentleman against whom the charges had been made, which he would presently read to the House. It was a very strange thing, he must observe, that complaints were not made against certain of the Commissioners until their duties had ceased, and proper time for complaint had passed by. All the complainants had waited not only till after the Commissioners had been appointed, but till the Commission in Dublin was at an end, and not one of them had made a complaint till the petition presented by the Bishop of Exeter. Only five complaints had been made of the Commissioners; since, these inquiries had been instituted, and the answers returned he believed to be satisfactory. With respect to all the after-complaints, their Lordships were as well aware of them as he; there were none but such as had been introduced by the right reverend Prelate. With respect to the complaint of Mr. M'Dermott, and the letter which the right reverend Prelate had read relating to him, he had made inquiries, and had received a letter in answer to the following effect: "Mr. M'Dermott admitted that he had attended many meetings on the Roman Catholic claims, and, among others, one in the parish in which the greater part of his property was situated. He said, it was true that the people had chaired him through the town after the meeting, but all this had occurred not recently, but previous to the passing of the Emancipation Bill, and, as well as he could recollect, in the year 1825. It was not true, that he had made any inflamma- tory speech against the police force or Magistrates; he had spoken warmly against the exclusion of men from Civil Offices on account of religious opinions, but nothing more." His Lordship, in conclusion, said that Mr. M'Dermott was a person on whose statements he thought their Lordships might place implicit reliance.

The Bishop of Exeter

hoped their Lordships would allow him to make a few observations in reply to what had fallen from the noble Viscount. In the first place, the noble Viscount said, that there was no complaint made against the manner in which the Commission had been executed till this complaint had been brought forward, which was made by Mr. Irving. He received a letter yesterday, from which it appeared that complaints had been made against the enumerator for gross partiality. That individual had nearly prevented a whole family of Protestants from being entered. The omission, however, did not take place owing to a Mr. Blundell being present, who reported the case to the Commissioners. In another instance, there were two families, half of whom were Roman Catholics, and half Protestants, and they were recorded as all Roman Catholics. It appeared, that while the noble Viscount was informed that no complaint was made before one was stated in this House, Mr. Irving represented, that a complaint was made by him of the omission to which he had just alluded to Mr. Barrington, the Secretary to the Commission of Public Instruction, and on the very day on which the omission occurred. He begged the noble Viscount and their Lordships to understand that he did not object to Mr. M'Dermott's being one of the Commissioners because he was a Roman Catholic, it was because that Gentleman had been an industrious advocate, a zealous agitator, and he would add one of the most mischievous of the Members of the Roman Catholic Association—that was the very ground on which he thought him an unfit individual to be appointed by the Government to conduct so delicate an inquiry. Mr. M'Dermott admitted, that he had been a Member of the Roman Catholic Association, and that he had been chaired round the town after attending a public meeting. [The Marquess of Lansdowne, that was in 1827.] The noble Marquess said, that this took place in the year 1827, before the passing of the Act of Catholic Emancipation. Surely, however, the accident of Catholic Emancipation was not a purge for all the political misconduct which took place before it. If it were, it had an operation even more extraordinary than any it was thought to have. He must say, that when the Government had to look out for persons whose duty it would be to act under this Commission—a Commission the appointment of which excited in the minds of the Protestants great jealousy, apprehension, and suspicion that it was intended to destroy the Protestant Church in Ireland—they could not have done worse—they could not have taken any course tending more to fix those suspicions, ay, and to justify them, than that of going to the Roman Catholic Association and selecting from its most distinguished Members an individual to act in the capacity of Commissioner. Mr. M'Dermott now said, that he did make a speech at the meeting to which there had been allusion, but he denied having used the language ascribed to him. The speech was delivered or Sunday the 4th of November, 1827, in a Roman Catholic chapel in the town of Castlereagh—a town in the immediate vicinity of which he possessed some property. The reverend Robert Blundell spoke of Mr. M'Dermott as the well-known agitator, and stated that he recollected his being chaired through the streets in consequence of the attack he made in the Romish chapel against the Established Church, and particularly against Mr. Stoney, who was then the curate of a parish five miles from Castlereagh. He would read to their Lordships some of the language used by Mr. M'Dermott, and applied to Mr. Stoney. He described him as a "poor, mean, low, ill-coloured mountebank, a monkey person, and an arch Tory." This attack gave rise to the publication of a printed, paper, which was circulated extensively in Mr. Stoney's immediate neighbourhood. The paper contained the language which their Lordships had just heard, and also some observations in which the Roman Catholic priests were called on to say whether the use of such scurrility as this, with reference to Mr. Stoney, was the tit way of carrying on a religious controversy. The paper so circulated was immediately answered by the Roman Catholic curate of the parish in which Mr. Stoney lived, and that answer did not contain a syllable as to the incorrectness of the language ascribed to Mr. M'Dermott in the report of his speech. Now, he must say, that in the absence of the proof supplied by a person who was present at the meeting, and heard the language used, he did not think it was possible to bring presumptive proof that would be more conclusive than that he had furnished against Mr. M'Dermott. It was true this speech was delivered before 1829; but he would put it to the noble Marquess whether a person who had used such language before 1829 was a fit individual to be intrusted with such an inquiry? But this was not all. Mr. M'Dermott continued to the present day to have the character of being an agitator; and Mr. Blundell stated that his being so considered confirmed the Protestants of Ireland in their opinion that the Commission was intended for the destruction of the Established Church. He had obtained some information, also, respecting another of the Commissioners, which was, that, though a Protestant, he had avowed himself hostile to all Church Establishment. He could furnish proof of that. This gentleman, whose name he did not wish to mention, was one of the second number of Commissioners appointed, and was also chosen by the noble Viscount.—[Viscount Duncan-non asked the gentleman's name.]—It was Neil O'Donnel Brown. The appointment of Mr. M'Dermott was felt to be a proof by the people of the town of Castlereagh and its neighbourhood, that the object of this Commission was hostile to the Established Church. It was therefore deplored by the Protestants, and hailed with joy by the Roman Catholics. The gentlemen who had supplied him with information as to these facts were ready to substantiate them; there were no inquiries from which he had shrunk: indeed, he was at this moment below the Bar of their Lordships' House, and was quite ready to answer, either publicly or privately, any inquiries that it might please their Lordships to make of him. The right reverend Prelate then referred to a statement in the Appendix to Wyse's History of the Roman Catholic Association, from which it appeared, that in the year 1826, at the period of the general election, the Duke de Montebello having come over to visit this country, accompanied by M. Dubergier, determined also on travelling through Ireland. While in that country, they availed themselves of an opportunity that occurred, to be present at a great meeting which was held at Ballinaslough; and in a description afterwards given by M. Dubergier of that meeting, he remarked that Mr. Sheil having spoken (several had spoken before him), there appeared nothing more to do than to remain silent; but at last a young gentleman, whose name was M'Dermott, rose, and for a considerable time entertained the company." M. Dubergier, in allusion to the observations made by Mr.M'Dermott, remarked, "What will the Bishop of Thermopolæ say to this? The speaker declared it to be his opinion, that the State ought to have no established religion; that it should adopt neither one nor another; but it should preserve its neutrality between them all." Now it was intelligible to him why the Commission was issued. If the noble Lord did not intend to act fairly and justly with the Protestant cause in Ireland, in that case he did well in selecting those persons for Commissioners who had declared themselves hostile to all Ecclesiastical Establishments. But if, on the contrary, it was meant that the inquiry should be impartial and satisfactory, then he was quite sure that there was not one of their Lordships who had not himself been engaged in issuing the Commission, who would not say, that the Government ought most scrupulously, most religiously, to have abstained from sending any man to Ireland on a Commission, whose name could be coupled with the reproach either of agitation or of having expressed sentiments such as he had quoted. With respect to Mr. M'Dermott, he would not trespass much longer on their Lordships' patience; but he begged to be allowed to state to them one fact more. In the month of December, 1828, it was determined by the Roman Catholic Association to send a mission from Ireland to England, to represent to the people of England the wrongs under which the people of Ireland were suffering. That mission, however, never was sent, doubtless for very good reasons; probably it was thought that it might do more harm than good. The missionaries, however, were selected, and he would read their names to their Lordships. They were Mr. O'Connell, Mr. Sheil, Mr. Wyse, Mr. O'Gorman Mahon, and Mr. M'Dermott. He gave this statement also on the authority of Wyse's History of the Roman Catholic Association. He submitted to their Lordships, that he had fully established this, that, whether it was a merit or a demerit, Mr. M'Dermott was a notorious agitator.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

would state distinctly what he meant by the words he uttered when he interrupted the right reverend Prelate. He meant to intimate then what he was prepared to state now, which was, that he did not think the act of being chaired round the town an unlawful or improper act. It was an act which before now he had known some very great persons not to decline being made the subject of; and his own opinion was, that it was not a very grave offence, or of such a penal character as to disqualify an individual from holding a public situation eight or nine years after the question, the discussion of which had occasioned the chairing, had been carried. He knew many persons, whose political sentiments and conduct underwent a very great change about the time the Roman Catholic measure was passed, and several of those whom he so knew, were very eminent individuals. He hoped that they were not to be considered as disqualified from filling public situations because of any change which their political conduct then underwent. All he intended to state was, that Mr. M'Dermott was, at that moment, charged by the right reverend Prelate with having been chaired round the town. He thought that was not—he would not even say a venal offence—it was no offence at all. The course Mr. M'Dermott had pursued was taken for the purpose of carrying a great and constitutional measure, and was perfectly consistent with the purity and loyalty of Mr. M'Dermott's character. He agreed with the right reverend Prelate that if Mr. M'Dermott was known to be a political agitator now, he was an unfit person to be selected by the Government as a Commissioner; and he never would have been so selected, if there had been an impression on the mind of his noble Friend that such had been Mr. M'Dermott's character. In making this remark he felt bound also to say, that so far as he had heard of Mr. M'Dermott, he had reason to believe that gentleman had kept his hands as clean, and his character as free from any intermixture of party politics during this inquiry as it was possible for circumspection to do. The noble Marquess concluded by saying, that he had great pleasure in finding from communica- tions he had received from several of the Commissioners, that the ministers of the Established Church and the Roman Catholic priests afforded the utmost degree of facility to the inquiries the Commissioners had to make. They furnished information with frankness and candour; and when the object of the inquiries came to be distinctly explained to them, they did not exhibit even that degree of hostility which, from one quarter or the other, some persons had anticipated.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

begged to bear his testimony to the fact that Mr. M'Dermott could not now be properly called a Roman Catholic political agitator. He would ask their Lordships to what purpose were the attacks now made upon the character of the Commissioners? The time had been allowed to pass when they could do any good; if they were well founded they ought to have been brought forward before. But now, when the Commissioners had made a Report which was, perhaps, not so agreeable to some ears, when many arguments and statements were founded on that Report which were, perhaps, not more agreeable—then, the Report being so unfavourable, perhaps—he did not say therefore—the only resource was to say that the Report was not to be believed, because the character of the persons who made it was so and so. The assertion that Mr. M'Dermott was a notorious Roman Catholic agitator, was unfounded. If he chose to look back for testimony he could show that the gentleman in question had been even termed a renegade, because he had not taken the part in politics of late that he did formerly. That he was an agitator in the years 1826, 1827, and 1828, he agreed. Nay more—he believed that he, with many others, writhed under the exclusion and disabilities to which the Roman Catholics were formerly most unjustly subject. But that he had done anything to show that he was a dangerous subject, that he was dead to the Constitution, or that he was an improper man to be employed on any question which, in the remotest degree, affected state policy, or in any matters requiring energy, or exertion, or judgment, or discretion, he denied. But the name of this gentleman, is was said, had been coupled with agitation previous to the year 1829, therefore he was not to be employed by the Government. Why, would the right reverend Prelate tell him that his own name was not coupled with agitation before the year 1829? Did he not write certain pamphlets? Did he not attend public meetings? Did he not aid the cause which he advocated, by giving to it the influence which belonged to his great talents and high character? Who, in short, was not an agitator, when an important public measure was to be discussed, who had the energy and ability to come before his countrymen? He would say, that so far from the part which Mr. M'Dermott took making a case against him, it was in his favour. He denied that his conduct had shown he was to be considered a disloyal man, or disaffected towards his Sovereign. He would say that Mr. M'Dermott was precisely the individual, on account of his connexion with the Roman Catholic Association, who should be employed on such an occasion. He had shown a just appreciation of, and that he was sensibly alive to, those grievances which both Houses of Parliament had since declared were grievances that ought to have been removed the moment they could be removed without danger. There was no proof of his being an agitator at the present time. He did not know whether it was Burke or Lord Plunkett who had said something to this effect, "I agitate because there is a grievance; I try to rouse the country to get rid of it; but that grievance being got rid of, I will follow my profession quietly." Such was the person to employ when opportunity offered. He repeated, that Mr. M'Dermott had not taken an active part in politics since 1829, and he could assure their Lordships that he was a gentleman of unblemished honour.

The Duke of Wellington

said, he must confess he had not the confidence which the noble Marquess had in Mr. M'Dermott. He should not have troubled their Lordships with any observations on this occasion, were it not his wish to bring back the discussion to the point on which, in his opinion, it ought to stand. The noble Marquess said, and he admitted the truth of the observation, that it ought not to be an objection to an individual taking office that he had formerly been a member of the Roman Catholic Association. But in this case there was a particular inquiry to be instituted in Ireland affecting in a great degree the Established Church; and, the question for the right reverend Prelates and the House to consider was this, whether a gentleman who had been an agitator—who had been noted as a Roman Catholic agitator—was a fit person to be selected as a Commissioner to conduct this Inquiry? He must say, that the right reverend Prelate, in his opinion, proved his case most clearly, for not only had he proved that this Gentleman was a Roman Catholic agitator, and a very forward Roman Catholic agitator—not only that he was classed amongst the first of those agitators, but also that he had in the most pointed manner declared himself an enemy of the Established Church. He would say, then, that if any reliance was to be placed on the former character of that Gentleman, he was a man who, of all others, ought not to be appointed to such an office. Now, really, that was the whole amount of this Question. It was nothing else than whether this Gentleman was or was not a fit person to be made a member of this Commission. Nothing could be fairer or clearer than the proof which the right reverend Prelate had given; and to that proof there could be no answer whatever.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, the only evidence was that of a foreigner, who gave his description of what he had heard some eight years ago.

The Bishop of Exeter

said, he found the account he had given in the appendix to the history of the Roman Catholic Association, and that history was written by Mr. Wyse, the notorious agitator himself.

Viscount Melbourne

said, he lamented these discussions on account of their personal nature. The manner in which the Commission had been fulfilled justified him in saying that it had passed off without producing any of the bad effects on the public mind that, by some individuals, had been expected. Under these circumstances, he thought it would have been as well if the right reverend. Prelate had forborne to come forward with his statements of facts, statements of opinions, statements of sayings asserted on one day and contradicted the next, giving rise to one debate and leading to another, and never coming to any satisfactory end one way or another on any part of the subject. The noble Duke declared his approval of the principle, that an individual ought not to be excluded from taking a public office on account of his having belonged to the Roman Catholic Association. Being of that opinion, could the noble Duke deny that there were many individuals in Ireland, who, having been active members of that Association, when the Question of Catholic Emancipation was carried, did give up the course they had been pursuing altogether? There were many who declared themselves satisfied with the measure, and who engaged no further in politics; and he did think that such persons, instead of being passed over, ought to be especially distinguished. Mr. Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman afforded an instance of honourable conduct such as he had adverted to. He admitted that the Commission ought to be composed of impartial individuals, but he could not think that a man having been a member of the Roman Catholic Association seven years ago ought to exclude him from being appointed a member of that Commission. Nor did he feel that the case was made any stronger by a report of an after-dinner speech delivered on the occasion of a meeting at Ballinasloe, so long ago as 1827. In conclusion he must say, that he did not think there was any foundation for the unlimited censure of which Mr. M'Dermott had been the subject.

The Bishop of Exeter

begged to state, in justice to Mr. M'Dermott, that he did say on the occasion before adverted to, that he was equally against the ascendancy of his own church.

Lord Farnham

should have thought that, at least, the Government ought not to have allowed the Gentleman to institute his inquiries in that part of the country in which his character was so well known. The noble Lord, in reference to the Irish tithe measure, said, that when that Bill came before their Lordships, if he found it was intended to suspend the benefices in those parishes in which there were not fifty persons, he should move that the Report of the Commissioners be referred to a Select Committee to ascertain whether it was correct or not. It might turn out, that if in any of such parishes there was a number of Wesleyans, and the Commissioners had not entered them as belonging to the Established Church, the effect would be to deprive those parishes of their pastors; whereas, if the Wesleyans were properly decribed, the parishes would retain their pastors.

Viscount Duncannon

could assure their Lordships that he had made the strictest inquiries into the character, manners, and conduct of Mr. M'Dermott; the result of which was, that he considered that Gentleman perfectly qualified. With regard to the division of districts, that had been arranged in Dublin by the Commissioners themselves.

The Subject was dropped.